Sunday, 28 August 2011

Editorial Advice

Writing a book is hard, and it's not really something you can do in complete isolation. At some point someone is going to have to read it and if you're wise you'll look for objective and experienced advice to point you in the right direction.

But where to find it? Your first port of call for free advice is a peer review site. There are many and they are as good or bad as their members so you have to suck it and see which one is best for you. Any site that allows anyone to join will have the widest range of ability, and therefore the strike rate for good crits is going to be lower. Having said that, you can usually glean something helpful from any crit. Even a non-writer will have a gut reaction to your story that's useful to know. With a little time and effort you can build up a picture of how your book is being received.

And the great thing about peer review is you learn an awful lot about what works by reviewing other people's work. The problem with your own manuscript is you're too heavily involved with it and therefore can't see the faults. That isn't a problem with somebody else's baby. The flaws are much easier to spot, and reading critically teaches you to read your own with a dispassionate eye.

But peer review has limitations, and sooner or later you may want to find professional advice to help you reach the next stage. I've never paid for editorial advice, and I would guard against throwing your money at just anyone. With the cuts in publishing there are more freelance editorial advisors around than ever, and some are better qualified than others. Personally I wouldn't take advice from anyone who hadn't reached a significantly higher level in the publishing business than myself. Another wannabe, however perceptive and well intentioned, and cheap, is probably not good enough. So if you are tempted down this road, make sure you go for someone with a proven track record either as an author or an editor of published books.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Social Networking

I recently got an invitation to register on the latest social network Google+. Don't expect a full appraisal of it, but from what I can gather it's much like Facebook except it enables you to group your contacts so you don't have to share everything with everyone.

I joined Facebook when my son was away at university as a way of keeping in touch on an informal basis. Since then it's enabled me to make contact with relatives all over the world - one or two cousins in different continents I'd never met. I've also connected with other writers, but as far as networking goes it hasn't been much use to me.

I think Twitter is better for networking because you can follow just about anyone so it's useful for knowing what people are doing and thinking.

Do you use them, and what do you think?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Good Reviews

Just to balance out my last post, I've been thinking a lot about good reviews.

Of course we all want good reviews. To be read and appreciated, even to have our work loved and praised, is every writer's secret desire. But are good reviews any use to us?

I've been on writers' forums where mutual praise and backslapping reached the level of a circle jerk. I even once saw a newly published writer ask her online buddies to go and leave good reviews on Amazon to counter something nasty a beastly genuine reviewer had written. I don't think it's unusual, and glowing customer reviews need to be viewed with a degree of scepticism for that reason.

But even genuine good reviews harbour dangers for the writer. Any praise inflates our old enemy, the Ego. Give him enough of it and he's changed from your pugilistic ally into an overweening monster. Without criticism you can't grow and develop and improve. Your talent withers and calcifies. You lose inspiration and the drive to make a better job of it.

So praise, genuine or otherwise, can be toxic even if it is addictive. Accept it with care.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Bad Reviews

Why is peer review so popular? It's because we write to be read, of course. That's what we all crave, isn't it? Even a critical eye is better than no eye at all - although of course we'd all prefer the uncritical one.

But whenever we get a stinking review we can always comfort ourselves with the knowledge that the great and good have faced such humiliation before us. I like to read the one-star Amazon reviews of bestsellers to remind myself that no one, no matter how successful, is immune from criticism.

Here's a sample:

"Page after page of gibberish that makes no sense at all..." Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy.

".. a weak, pathetic imitation of literature that doesnt even deserve to be called a book." Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling.

"..upperclass British drivel" Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

What a hoot!

So take heart, gentle writer. Next time someone trashes your magnum opus, remember everybody gets it in the neck sometimes.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Painting The Forth Bridge

Sometimes it feels like painting the Forth Bridge. Revision I mean. No, not because of the copious amounts of red paint, or even the need for a harness, but because it seems to loop endlessly. Every day I rewrite something only to go back the next day and find it needs more work. And by the end I'll be going back to the beginning again. So it goes.

Someone once said, books are never finished, just abandoned. And I believe that's true. Because a book is a fluid thing, an imperfect creation full of endless possibility. Even when it's published it still isn't finished, because in the mind of a reader it can become something the author never dreamed of. That is the beauty of fiction - it is a letter to the world that doesn't even exist until it's read.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Oo-er, I've won an award!

Gushing thanks to Margo at Urban Psychopomp for nominating me for this award.

Here's the rules:
1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun!

So here's me nominations:

Cagnolino, a new but perfectly formed blog.

Rising speculative fiction star, Colin F Barnes.

Writing thoughts from St Force.

Stylish thoughts from Joe Young.

And last but not least, my own offspring Scott has ventured into the blogging world. Please give his blog a try here.

How Thick Is Your Plot?

Here is another fascinating Book Deal blog about ways to thicken your plot.

I said in an earlier post that in revision what I find is generally too much plot. Anyone who's done Nanowrimo will recognise the casually tossed in and incongruous plot twist used to liven things up when your energy level is flagging. I make no apology for this. Writing a first draft is like running a marathon and at times you will try anything to get some momentum going when your ideas have run dry and the characters are standing around looking for inspiration.

But that's the great thing about revision. These things are so easy to spot and easy to deal with, assuming you are ruthless enough. All the daft stuff has to go. I find I can usually remember what I was thinking when I made Dorothy, the one legged trapeze artist lover of Quentin, the Main Character, pull that sabre from her knickers and chop off the heads of all seven of their party guests. I was tired and bored and itching to write something exciting for a change. But let's face it, it won't really play in a Romcom now will it? So the sabre, the party, even Dorothy have to go. Yes, I know it was a week's work, but it's contrived, it deviates from the plot and frankly, it's dumb.

If it means losing a lot of material then so be it. The point is to carve out the excess to reveal the story and bring salient plot points to the fore. New scenes will present themselves - I have a constant struggle to stop myself rewriting nearly every scene. The revision is hard work. It isn't just a bit of nip and tuck.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Ultimate Marketing Ploy

Forget social networking, blogging, book tours etc. I've hit upon the ultimate book selling ploy of all. Get banned.

Think about it. Doesn't a ban make you automatically want to read something? In the Sixties and Seventies, when Radio One had the monopoly of airtime for pop music, a ban meant a single wouldn't be played anywhere and yet every song the BBC banned - and there were quite a few - made number one in the charts overnight EVEN WHEN NO ONE HAD HEARD THEM.

And who among you remember Peter Wright's 1987 memoir Spycatcher, famously banned by Margaret Thatcher for compromising national security? In spite of being illegal in the UK - or was it because of - it became an international bestseller despite being deadly dull. I bought a copy myself just to annoy the Tory government.

People hate censorship. (At least most people do - there are no absolutes in life, and there will always be some saps who think the authorities know best.) So banning something makes it much cooler, much more interesting, even daring, than the run of the mill pulp fodder we usually snack on. If They don't want me to read it, I'm damn well going to read it.

Which is why I have just ordered a copy of Kurt Vonnegut's WW2 memoir Slaughterhouse Five, banned by a high school in Missouri.

And I'm now trying to figure a way of making my next book bannable? (Is that a word? It is now)

Suggestions, folks?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Some things that amaze me

When revising, it always amazes me...

... how much I can cut. When writing the story, I invariably include far more extraneous detail than is needed to keep things moving. Some people go overboard on description, and I am certainly guilty of that, but my worse crime is the running commentary. He did this, then he walked to the door and looked out, then he lit a cigarette, then get the drift. It's so satisfying to prune out all that stuff and home in on the pivotal moments.

... how easily I got bogged down and blown off course. Part of it is covering all the bases, of course. But one thing that becomes clear at this stage is where I have wandered off the plot and into some expository Neverland of irrelevant backstory and subplot blind alleys. I blame the characters. If only they'd stick to the script... little plot you actually need. You do need some plot of course, but only enough to give the scene meaning and purpose. After that you don't need to think about it, just concentrate on the characters. depressingly bad my writing can be. But hey, cheer up! I'm going to fix it, right?

But at least I haven't done this ...yet.